Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Almas Svilpaas as Hercules and Marie-Helen Joel as Lichas [Photo by Thilo Beu courtesy of Aalto-Musiktheater]
13 Dec 2011

Colossal Hercules in Essen

Apparently the Aalto Theater didn’t get the memo that oratorios often make weak theatre pieces, since the company presented such a gripping dramatic case for Handel’s Hercules.

G. F. Handel: Hercules

Hercules: Almas Svilpa; Dejanira: Michaela Selinger; Hyllus: Andreas Hermann; Iole: Christina Clark; Lichas: Marie-Helen Joel; Conductor and Chorus Master: Alexander Eberle; Director: Dietrich W. Hilsdorf; Set Design: Dieter Richter; Costume Design: Renata Schmitzer; Lighting Design: Dirk Beck; Stage Director of the Revival: Carolin Steffen-Maass; Chorus Master: Alexander Eberle; Continuo Group: Natalia Spehl (Cembalo/Organ), Ulrich Mahr (Cello), Michael Giesen (Bass), Stephan Rath (Theorbo).

Above: Almas Svilpaas as Hercules and Marie-Helen Joel as Lichas

Photos by Thilo Beu courtesy of Aalto-Musiktheater

 

Perhaps the most astounding hallmark of this fine production is the fact that the stellar cast was assembled from Essen’s own roster of house singers. Many an international company would count itself lucky to have fielded such a superior team of soloists. First among equals was the commanding Hercules from Almas Svilpa. That his sonorous, resounding Heldenbariton also serves him well when he takes on Wotan at the house is no surprise. Even more awesome than his burnished tone, however, was Mr. Svilpa’s bravura technique that allowed the role’s florid vocal fireworks to come hurtling into the auditorium with utmost precision and emotional heft. I have seldom heard such interpretive freedom and nuance in a voice so large. Almas is also a sincere and attentive actor with an imposing, well-defined body that commands the stage.

1626_2069_Hercules-1126.gifMichaela Selinger as Dejanira and Christina Clark as Iole

The many challenges of Dejanira’s vocal and theatrical machinations held no fear for Michaela Selinger’s lusciously appealing mezzo. Ms. Selinger brings a wealth of stage savvy to bear, and she coolly mines a wealth of variety from the moody, prodding, vengeful character. The role calls for wide-arching phrases, rapid-fire fioritura, sinuously persuasive pleas, self-righteous dramatic statements, and caressed introspections, and well, this diva divine simply has it all, plus a star quality that is every bit a match for her Hercules.

Diminutive, lovely Christina Clark as Iole is a perfect foil for Dejanira, with her beautifully schooled, crystal clear, silvery soprano that, though small, floats out into the house with ease. Ms. Clark’s voice may have an innate sweetness, but she can also suggest some starch and bite when the drama requires. She immerses herself into the role with abandon.

Andreas Hermann cut a handsome figure as Hyllus, and utilized his attractive, rather straight-toned tenor to good effect. His refined phrasing lent an underlying elegance to the tortured son’s ruminations. Marie-Helen Joel was a bright-voiced, prepossessing Lichas. Her lean, responsive mezzo and assured deportment rounded out the first-rate cast who worked beautifully singly and together. Speaking of which, Alexander Eberle’s hard-working, peripatetic chorus was another of the performance’s glories for their luxuriant ensemble singing and ardent dramatic involvement.

1618_2053_Hercules-1065.gifMichaela Selingeras as Dejanira with Opern- und Extrachor, Statisterie des Aalto-Theater

Perhaps that was because Herr Eberle was indeed the evening’s conductor, and what a loving, incisive reading he coaxed from cast and pit! Maestro Eberle not only partnered his soloists with uncanny care and consideration, he also found an internal pace to the whole evening that would be the envy of many a Baroque “specialist.” Rarely, have I been so completely drawn into a Handel stage work. Eberle had his work cut out for him since the choral and instrumental forces were often spread out into the upper tier or offstage sides of the auditorium. Well worth it say I since this was a brilliant effect which surrounded us with, enveloped us into waves of music.

But this begins to fall into the realm of stage direction, and here, too, Essen scored a bull’s eye. Originally staged by Dietrich W. Hilsdorf and here remounted by Carolin Steffen-Maass, this was a fascinating “leap of faith.” For the production did not try to pretend that the oratorio format had a linear dramatic timeline. Not a Unity in sight, they elected to treat each new set piece as an impression that fits into the whole, perhaps like a piece of a stained glass window, or in stage terms, like the vignettes that form Webber and Rice’s Evita.

In making this choice, they went for broke and aggressively physicalized each scena. This yielded astounding results, and the no-holds-barred sparring and wrestling and clutching and chasing that informed many confrontations were raw, startling, and arresting. That is not to say there were not contrasting moments of repose and contemplation, but these were made all the more impressive in the context of such a primal frame of reference.

1632_2081_Hercules-1310.gifAlmas Svilpa as Hercules, Michaela Selinger as Dejanira and Marie-Helen Joel as Lichas

Dieter Richter’s massive, decaying structure with its eroding stone walls, downstage cistern, displaced doors, and crumbing skylight evoked many locales, to include a temple, a public bath, a reception room, and (with addition of a large, curtained bed-room-platform stage left) a theatre. The front scrim cloth of Dejanira’s boudoir is adorned with what appears to be a primitive cave painting. So many productive uses then, for this evocative environment. It is gorgeously lit by Dirk Beck, whose brooding, mist-filled general wash was frequently invaded by beams of warm specials like that streaming from upper stage right’s large round embrasure.

Arguably the hardest-working designer was Renata Schmitzer who attired the large cast in over-the-top costumes that were varied, explicit, and staggering in aesthetic scope. In general the look seemed grounded in Handel’s own period, witness the elegant black mourning clothes, and the riotously colored waistcoats, gowns and wigs of the courtiers. The soldiers were truly intimidating with their black uniforms from a more biblical era, with breastplates and two huge feathered inverted “f’s” attached to the back as an ominous decoration that caused the men to tower over the female peasants (clad in burka variations).

The leading roles were tellingly attired in variations of shiny elegant underclothes (Iole), sleepwear (Dejanira, Hercules), court wear (Hyllus, Lichas) and uniform (Hercules). Dejanira’s volatile burgundy/purple, Hyllus’s icy blue, Lichas’s deep gray, Hercules’s bluish-grey, and Iole’s transition from white to black all meaningfully underscored their character’s souls.

If I had one wish, I would ask that the company work a bit on their English pronunciation. Only American Clark was singing in her native language and not surprisingly, her diction was superb. The others had moments of excellence, but with everything operating as such a superlative level, that was the one element that could be improved upon. Yes, I know the audience didn’t care since they were reading the German supertitles, but. . .just sayin.’

The choice to present Handel’s Hercules was a considerable risk. But thanks to Essen’s wholly winning artistic contributions it paid off with a success as colossal as its namesake.

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):